Amazon Patents Drone to Recharge Electric Cars While Driving

Aerial refueling could eventually make its way to EVs, thanks to everyone’s favorite Internet mega-store.

byWill Sabel Courtney|
Electric Vehicles photo


There are a few obstacles standing between electric cars and world domination—range anxiety, rare earth supplies, Donald Trump—but perhaps the greatest is the lengthy time it currently takes for EVs to cop a charge. Even the fastest charging stations around, such as Tesla's famed Superchargers, take the better part of an hour to give an electric vehicle the same amount of range a gas-powered car can slurp up in five minutes at the pump. Automakers and other companies are hard at work developing more potent power-ups, but even these—like Porsche's 800-volt chargers for the new Mission E—will still take several minutes to top up a battery pack. 

But what if electric cars could top up their metaphorical tanks not just faster than internal-combustion vehicles...but could recharge without even stopping at all?

It's not a new idea—companies such as Qualcomm have explored wireless chargers built into the road surface to provide power on the go—but none of the past ideas have been quite as creative as an electric car-recharging drone system patented by Amazon, which recently received the stamp of approval from the United States Patent Office and was dug up by Greentech Media

In a nutshell, the patent—which was filed in late June 2014 but was formally granted in early October of this year—describes a method in which electric vehicles would contact a central server when their batteries were running too low to reach their intended destination, prompting a computer to dispatch an unmanned flying machine with a supplementary battery pack. The drone and the car would wirelessly exchange information to sync up their speeds and locations; once they rendezvous, the car would deploy a retractable charger, and the drone would plug into the vehicle while in motion to pass along the needed juice. (The actual patent filing goes into the system in far greater detail using rather obtuse language, but if you're so inclined, you can read it all here.)

Amazon's patent drawing for the charging drone., U.S. Patent Office
The car end of the equation. (And a tree, for some reason.), U.S. Patent Office
A breakdown of how the system would function., U.S. Patent Office
A breakdown of how the charging clamps would work., U.S. Patent Office

While Amazon's idea for unmanned electric car-spec versions of the KC-135 certainly seems inventive, the concept does seem to have a few problems. Most obviously, battery density seems like a prominent issue; any drone capable of providing a decent quantity of juice to an electric car would need a giant battery, thus requiring more powerful electric motors to lift all the weight...which would, in turn, require plenty of additional battery power. Likewise, while they could theoretically be used to provide recharging solutions for areas lacking traditional chargers, the drones themselves would still require infrastructure to recharge their batteries—at which point, it would seemingly make more sense to simply cut out the middle man and build an EV recharging station. 

Still, given Amazon's clear desire to explore the world-changing capabilities of drones, it's interesting to see the tech giant exploring ways to bring its expertise and money to the world of electric vehicles. Even if, like many patents, this aerial EV recharging system will probably never make it into the real world. 

Car TechElectric VehiclesPatents